Hooray for National Dog Day! I don’t know where I’d be without my dogs’ unconditional love and constant companionship.
As a person with the neurological condition dystonia, I suffer from occasional balance issues as well as ongoing anxiety when I have to go out when my symptoms are flaring. At times I’ve wondered if I could train my own service dog but I already have four dogs, none of whom are really suited for that type of work. and as a mom of three kids still at home, I don’t realistically have the time to train a service dog. Still, I reap all the positive benefits of dog ownership and that in itself is really therapeutic for me.
Service and therapy dogs are a big topic of interest in the disability and special needs community. The wait for a service dog can be long and expensive, leading many people to ask if they can train their own service dog. Others are interested in taking their dogs to visit children with special needs or seniors in nursing homes. There are a number of things you should consider before undertaking such a serious commitment.
Your dog might be relatively well behaved at home, but what happens when you go out? Does your dog bark or snarl at other animals? If behavior is a problem, you’ll want to consider an obedience course. Make sure that the training methods comply with the AKC/Canine Good Citizen test. A good training program can take from six to twelve weeks to complete. Your dog should be able to follow your commands at all times and in every situation.
How does your pet react around other people? A service dog must have a calm and neutral temperament. For therapy dogs, there may be lots of petting involved. Kids are often loud and rough until they are taught to handle pets. Is your dog able to deal with seniors and special needs children? A good service dog or therapy pet is one that stays calm and gentle in a variety of circumstances.
Dogs and other animals that are used to being around people are more likely to be friendly and outgoing in a crowd of new faces at a nursing home, a hospital or disability event. They also need to be comfortable and not spooked when around other animals.
Clean bill of health
Therapy dogs should be free of disease and properly vaccinated so as not to pose a health threat to vulnerable populations. The center or the organization you will be working with may require proof of their health. For therapy pets, non-shedding breeds might be preferable though dogs of all types can do therapy work. Remember, some patients may have allergies to animal dander.
Whether you’re looking at the possibility of service or therapy work for your dog, it’s critical that you go through the proper channels and be sure your dog is properly trained. Nothing is worse than people who get fake service IDs for their dogs. It makes it harder for the people who genuinely need a service dog to take their dogs out safely.
For further information on Service Dog and Pet Therapy Training, check out the following links.